National Portrait Gallery unveils portrait of Malala Yousafzai


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National Portrait Gallery unveils a portrait of Malala Yousafzai by Iranian-born artist and filmaker, Shirin Neshat, at the National Portrait Gallery on October 2, 2018, in London, England. Picture by Jorge Herrerera

The National Portrait Gallery has unveiled a newly commissioned portrait of Malala Yousafzai, the girls’ education activist and the youngest Nobel prize winner.

The portrait, which has gone on public display is the first in a series of three commissions granted to Iranian-born artist and filmmaker, Shirin Neshat and supported by the Outset Contemporary Art Fund.

Shirin Neshat is known for her early photographic works that explore questions of gender in relation to Islamic culture, as well as her later video works, which have departed from overtly political content or critique in favour of more poetic imagery and complex human narratives.

National Portrait Gallery unveils a portrait of Malala Yousafzai by Iranian-born artist and filmaker, Shirin Neshat, at the National Portrait Gallery on October 2, 2018, in London, England. Picture by Jorge Herrerera

The first commission features a set of two photographic portraits of Malala, onto which Neshat has hand inscribed a poem, ‘Malala II’ by the Pushto poet Rahman Shah Sayel from Peshawar.

The second portrait of Malala seated at a school desk with an open book will travel to Birmingham Museums, where it will be unveiled in 2020 as part of Coming Home - a new initiative, which will see fifty portraits from the National Portrait Gallery’s collection travel to places across the UK they are closely associated with.

Malala Yousafzai said: "I am honoured to have my portrait included in the National Portrait Gallery alongside some of Britain’s most influential writers, artists and leaders. I hope it will remind visitors that girls everywhere are fighting for change in their communities and countries — their stories must also be heard.”

In October 2012, Malala was shot in the head in an attack by a Taliban gunman on her school bus. She recovered in Birmingham where she chose to remain with her family.

In 2013, Malala was awarded the International Children’s Peace Prize and co-founded the Malala Fund to champion every girl's right to 12 years of free, safe, quality education. In 2014, Malala became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize with Indian activist Kailash Satyarthi.

Now 21, Yousafzai is studying philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford University.

National Portrait Gallery unveils a portrait of Malala Yousafzai by Iranian-born artist and filmaker, Shirin Neshat, at the National Portrait Gallery on October 2, 2018, in London, England. Picture by Jorge Herrerera

Dr Nicholas Cullinan, Director, National Portrait Gallery said: “We are delighted to have commissioned these powerful new portraits, which represent an historic coming together of an inspirational and fearless young woman, who has had a profound impact on the education and welfare of girls throughout the world, with a leading international artist known for her unique and pioneering work. I am extremely grateful to Outset Contemporary Art Fund for their generous support in making this possible.”

Shirin Neshat, artist said: “I knew of Malala as an extraordinary young woman who had marvelled the world by her victory over death; her fierce fight for women’s education and for winning the Nobel Peace Prize, all before she turned twenty years old.

“It was impossible not to feel intimidated ... Yet as she arrived at the studio to be photographed, I was immediately taken aback by her timid, gentle and innocent demeanour. To this day, when I look back on our encounter, I am left with impressions of humility, wisdom and a rare sense of inner beauty.”

Poem 'Malala II' by Rahmat Shah Sayel (Translated by Qasim Swati)


O Malala I, Malala II is your reincarnation and the new Malala of the Pakhtoons.
You can listen to your own voice when Malala II is speaking after a long time, as Malala II is obsessed with what you believed in and acted upon.
As the flag made up of your red shawl is still flying over your grave in Maiwand as a symbol of your heroism for the sake of
your Pashtoon Nation, Malala II is also following in your footsteps.
As you made your Pashtoon Nation undefeatable in the history of Maiwand by your own single tappa [a short folk song of northern Indian origin], Malala II is also determined,undefeated and strong enough in carrying out her mission.
No one could break your record of bravery for the last two generations, but she [Malala II] did so, because she does the same for her nation, as you did for yours.
If the people had valued you as equal to flowers [because of your bravery and achievements], so have the flowers
themselves gifted Malala II to the people of Pakhtunkhwa.
You might have seen the wreckage of your country, but this Malala II is fit and proper enough to find a solution for compensating for that wreckage.
Whatever tappa you had sung in the battlefield of Maiwand; that tappa had been coined and invented by Malala II, as she
is hugely inspiring.
As you encouraged the defeated and disheartened fighters of your nation to come back to the trenches and fight against the enemy, this is Malala II who is determined to accomplish your mission.
While you brought a huge honour to your nation by encouraging your countrymen to fight against the enemy, the same battle is fought by her [Malala II] with the help of a pen [education] to serve her nation.
You are the reflection of the poetry of Sa’eel, but she is a light born from your reflection.

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